Anyone who’s ever done much work in the gym will know that effective breathing can make a huge difference to how well your exercises works. You always want to be completely in control of your movements, and going slowly and carefully makes this much easier. Breathing calmly helps with this hugely. Exactly the same attitude should be applied to your Kegel exercises, and effective breathing can make the Kegels much easier to perform.
While there isn’t a specific type of Kegel breathing you can employ while you do your Kegels, there is a type of breathing that helps a lot. This is diaphragmatic breathing. One of the most important aspects of effective breathing is to make full use of your diaphragm. This is the muscle located just under the lungs. It’s designed to help you properly inhale and exhale into your lungs. When you inhale, your diaphragm expands downwards, creating a vacuum and letting the air fill up your lungs and lower into your abdomen. When you exhale, your diaphragm pushes the lungs back up, forcing the air back out again. Effectively using your diaphragm while breathing carries all kinds of benefits, such as improved circulation, lower blood pressure, and the ability to exercise for longer before you become tired.
But what does this have to do with Kegel exercises? Well your diaphragm resides in an area of the body often called the trunk. The trunk includes the abdomen, sides, lower back muscles, pelvis, and pelvic floor. As part of a healthy body, it’s important that all the areas of the trunk are working together effectively. When the diaphragm moves down to allow your lungs to properly fill up with air, all of the lower parts of the trunk are put under more pressure and squeezed down. This pushes on your pelvic floor muscles meaning these muscles need to maintain their strength more than usual to stop you from letting out urine or faeces. Similarly, when your diaphragm moves back up and releases the pressure on these organs, your pelvic floor needs to return back to its original position. In some ways the pelvic floor is like a second diaphragm for the lower parts of your body. As your diaphragm moves up and down, so does your pelvic floor.
Diaphragmatic breathing is something we should all probably be better at, but in the modern world we all spend a lot of time hunched over at desks, or sat on couches. This leads us to breathe into our lungs and upper chest a lot more than into abdominal region. Regaining a habit of proper diaphragmatic breathing, will bring you lots of benefits in life, but also has a great effect on your pelvic floor.
Exercises to practise Diaphragmatic Breathing
When you first start to explore proper diaphragmatic breathing techniques, the easiest way to do it is by lying down on the floor. You should have something under your head to support it and bend your knees. Place one hand on your abdomen, just below your ribcage, and the other on your side. Take a deep breath in and visualise the breath filling up not only your lungs, but moving further down and into your abdomen. If you’ve managed to properly utilise your diaphragm, you should feel the hand on your front move up, and the hand on your side move outwards. When you breathe back out, both hands should gradually return to their starting positions. That’s it! Ideally you want be breathing like this as much as possible, so practise as often as you like lying down, and then try doing it while standing up, moving around, and even exercising.
Breathing makes your Kegels stronger
Due to the difficulty of correctly isolating the muscles of the pelvic floor, many people end up tensing their buttocks, abdomen, or even back muscles while performing their Kegels. Not only does this make your Kegels less effective but stressing other muscles could cause some damage in the long term. On top of isolating the wrong muscles, many people stop breathing completely while they perform Kegels. You should never stop breathing while exercising as you need adequate amounts of oxygen to reach your muscles in order to prevent the build up of lactic acid which will end your sessions early.
By controlling your breathing, you can make your Kegels much smoother and more natural. Most people prefer to go with a clench on an outward breath, so start with a large breath in, fully filling up your lungs and abdomen with air, and utilising your diaphragm like I discussed earlier. As the air fill up your body, relax and slightly push your Pelvic floor muscles downwards, almost like you are making room for the air. Hold for a couple of seconds, and then begin to exhale slowly and clench your pelvic floor muscles, raising them up and helping to give the air an extra little push out of your body. Hold the Kegel until you have completely exhaled and then repeat the process until you have completed your set.
Slowing everything down allows you to properly pay attention to both your muscles, and your breathing, and most people find it helps them utilise their Kegels much more effectively!